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Reproduction Outside Horn Gramophones

The very first time that I saw an outside horn reproduction gramophone was at a Canadian Antique Phonograph Society meeting held sometime around 1987. At that time, CAPS met at a Community Centre at Trace Manes Park in Leaside and Basil Ingrouille was the auctioneer. A member had bought one of these while vacationing in Europe and had brought it to the meeting.

Bas commented that he did not feel that this fake gramophone belonged in the auction and said that he did not want any more of them at future meetings. He continued pointing out its faults and when bidding was opened up there was no interest in it at all.

These fake gramophones are made in the Middle East and south Asia. A motor from a portable is fitted into a wooden case manufactured on site. The back bracket is cast with an ornate design. The external horn is made of brass and is quite attractive. A poorly fitting elbow made of tin and soldered on a forty-five degree angle connects the horn to the back bracket.

When you see a His Master's Voice decal on the front of the cabinet and engraved on the nickel plating of the reproducer your expectation is that you are buying a genuine outside horn gramophone.

The rectangular cabinet with pillars in each corner is the cabinet style that I see most frequently. Recently, I saw a cabinet that was completely round. It still had the red mahogany stain and HMV (His Masterís Voice) decal on the front of the case and on the reproducer. In photographs, I have seen another style that has oval glass windows on the sides of the cabinet presumably so that you can watch the movement of the motor.

After writing the article on Reproduction Outside Horn Gramophones (refer to Antique Phonograph News November/December 1997) I forwarded a copy to Eric Reiss, author of the Compleat Talking Machine. I suggested that he add information about these gramophones as they were becoming quite a problem in Canada. His update required four pages. One of the fakes shown in his article has a Columbia Viva-tonal decal on the front. It is unusual in that the cabinet is hexagonal and each side has wooden decorative pieces added.

About nine months later, I received a package in the mail from Arizona, identifying the contents as a book.I said to my wife, "I didnít order a book from the States. Who could possibly be sending me a book?Ē The author had mailed his updated book to me along with a short note enclosed thanking me for all of my help and suggestions.

About two years after the meeting in Trace Manes Park, a collector brought me a Victrola VIII and IX for overhaul. The red mahogany cabinets had their original finish and were in exceptionally nice condition. He wanted these gramophones to play as perfectly as possible. The owner was young, enthusiastic and so very proud of these Victrolas. He told me that some day he would like to own an outside horn machine.

During an overhaul, I completely remove both mainsprings, clean, lubricate and reinstall them. All gears and spindles are also cleaned and oiled. I also disassemble the reproducer and if the diaphragm is damaged or the rubber gaskets have become hard and brittle, I replace them. This improves the sound quality.

A few months passed when I received a call from him. He was at an antique shop in the Eglinton, Mount Pleasant, Bayview area of Toronto and had located an outside horn gramophone that was not working. The owner had offered to trade it for his Victrolas VIII and IX. He made it very clear that when the trade was made there would be no trading back. Could I repair it? I suggested that he look at the motor to see if any gears were damaged and to ensure that the motor was complete. (It is not uncommon to have repairs brought to me with spring barrels completely missing). I assured him that my success rate on repairs was high that I could most likely repair it for him. The trade must have been a very difficult decision for him.

He arrived at my home shortly afterwards. When he lifted this gramophone from his car,I said "Oh! Oh!" With a worried look he asked "What is Oh! Oh!" I told him that he had just bought a reproduction outside horn machine. I will never forget the expression on his face. Although I felt badly, it did not occur to me to ask questions that I would ask today. Fake gramophones were not all that common at that time. When this repair was completed, he advised me that he no longer had any interest in this gramophone. Shortly afterwards, he traded it for an Amberola 30 in average condition. I have since lost track of him and I think it likely that the experience may have discouraged him from the hobby.

Before submitting this article, I wrote to Robert Baumbach, author of Look for the Dog. I explained that I would be writing a second article on fake gramophones and asked permission to use his drawing. His response was "By all means and thank you for asking. I enjoyed your article on reproduction gramophones and am pleased to help your update, in my small way."

Several years ago, while visiting the Antique Flea Market in Pickering, I was told that a dealer there was selling reproduction outside horn gramophones. I went to his booth and stood looking at one priced at $400.00 for a just a few moments. The dealer wasted no time in coming over to me. He asked "Are you interested? I am sure we can make a deal!" Without identifying myself, I replied "What can you tell me about this machine?" To his credit, he said, "We think it might be a reproduction." I replied "You no longer have to think, it DEFINITELY is a reproduction."

I only visit this flea market occasionally but when I do, I usually drop by his booth. He advised me that he had two stores and imports these gramophones from the Middle East. They arrive with other furniture in a cargo ship container and he sells quite a few of them. He confided to me that he had twenty-five of them stored in the basement of his home and could give me a great price if I was interested in buying a quantity of them. (I wasnít!) He now tells potential customers that he purchased the gramophone at an auction and knows very little about it. During one visit, he showed me a cabinet that had been dropped. The soft wood made of pine had splintered into several pieces. At the time, I remember thinking about wood for a campfire.

About 1990, an advertisement appeared in the Toronto Star. It read: HMV GRAMOPHONE, LARGE HORN. Upon reading the ad, I immediately suspected a reproduction, an assumption that proved to be correct. I advised him that I repaired should he ever need my service. When he arrived, he had seven of them in the back of his station wagon. He inquired "These arenít ALL reproductions are they?" To which I replied "Yes. All of them." He admitted that he had imported them from India. I learned afterwards that at least two of our members had driven to his home in Mississauga and upon seeing what he had for sale, immediately left. He dropped off one gramophone for repair. The crank angled from the top of the cabinet confirming that a motor from a fairly common portable had been used.

Over the years, I have repaired at least a dozen of these gramophones. Perhaps the reason why I donít particularly enjoy working on them is because I know that they are not authentic. Recent repairs I have worked on had the mainspring kinked. Most likely needle nose pliers were used in an attempt to form the spring around the centre shaft. Worse still, the spring had no lubricant whatsoever! Springs should be lubricated with a heavy duty wheel bearing grease. Oil should not be used as it is too light and will not stay on the spring surface. Many of the motors installed are Thorens (made in Switzerland) and have a very uncommon spring width. My supply of .026" x 7/8" mainsprings is almost depleted.

My last repair of one of these gramophones was brought to me last summer. The cabinet and matching stand were the most ornate that I have ever seen! The cabinet had decorative columns painted gold added between each of the six sides. There was no decal. Decorative gold metal plating had been added to both the cabinet and the stand to enhance the appearance. The owner had bought it on e-bay for $1,000 U.S. dollars while in Florida. When he crossed the border, he had to pay duty as well. Although it occurred to him that he might have bought a fake, he did not realize that it had mechanical problems until he arrived home. Nevertheless, he seemed very pleased with his purchase.

To avoid buying a reproduction gramophone, talk to or buy from experienced collectors or dealers and become knowledgeable by reading about and studying the pictures of external horn machines. For information on Victor Talking machines, I suggest "Look for the Dog" by Robert W. Baumbach. (8-1/2 x 5-1/2 326 pages). IBSN 0-9606466-0-4. Current Canadian price is $39.50. Published by Mulholland Press, 14332 Mulholland Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90077.

Columbia disc machines are illustrated in the Columbia Phonograph Companion, Volume II. ISBN 0-9606466-2-0. The author of this book is also Robert Baumbach. Current Canadian price is $37.50. Same publisher as above.

Another publication that I would recommend is "The Compleat Talking Machine" by Eric Reiss (Third Edition) ISBN 1-886606-12-9 (8-172" x 11" 236 pages). Note Old English spelling of Compleat. Current Canadian Price $47.50. Published by Sonoran Publishing, LLC Chandler, Arizona.

Hopefully, this article may spare others the despair of buying an outside horn gramophone only to learn that their purchase is a poor copy. They are showing up with increasing frequency in antique stores, auctions, flea markets and e-bay.

Comparison of Original and Fake Gramophone

Original Victor Outside Horn Gramophone
(Models 0 through VI)

Serial Plate

Victor Talking Machines used a metal serial plate. The plate shows V or Vic followed by the Model (0, I, IL, IIT, IV, V or VI) and then the serial number.

Back Bracket

Made of cast steel painted black with ornate gold trim.

Horn

Many different styles. Steel, steel and brass, wood (oak and mahogany). Horns were nicely designed.

Elbow

Cast (nickel plated). Nicely curved design.

Tone Arm

Nickel plated. Beautifully tapered. Nice design.

Reproducer

Concert or Exhibition. Mica diaphragm.

Cabinet

Hardwood (oak or mahogany).

Fake Gramophone
(Made in Middle East and south Asia)

Serial Plate

HMV decal reproduced from portables sold in the United Kingdom. Grainy (not sharp) image No model or serial number.

Back Bracket

Ornate back bracket cast (silver coloured)

Horn

The morning glory style horn (brass with ten panels) is the only style that I have encountered. Well constructed. Most likely there are others.

Elbow

Tin that has been soldered at a 45 degree angle.

Tone Arm

Very poorly made. If cast, pitted; if brass, crudely soldered. Often out of round where the reproducer is attached to the U-tube on the tone arm.

Reproducer

"His Masters Voice" (fake) and SOUNDBOX engraved on the nickel plated outer case of the reproducer. Duralium (tinfoil) diaphragm.

Cabinet

Soft wood (pine)

Eric Reiss advises that there is ONE exception. The Model 32 is an AUTHENTIC outside horn gramophone and has a HMV decal. It was manufactured in 1927 and has a four spring motor. This is a very late production date for an outside horn gramophone. It is a very rare gramophone. Fake machines always have a small lightweight one or two spring motor.